The rise of Asia is the central challenge of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. No other continent will have a greater impact on Russia’s international prospects in the coming decades. The Asia-Pacific, in particular, is already the principal region of global growth, geopolitical rivalry, and clashing values. Moscow’s long-time Westerncentrism is increasingly obsolescent, and the need for a fundamental reorientation of Russian foreign policy has become compelling.

Recent developments point to a new level of commitment in Russia’s engagement with the Asia-Pacific. Moscow has moved beyond platitudes about a ‘turn to the East’ and is pursuing a multi-dimensional approach towards the region: reinforcing the partnership with China; reaching out to other major players; and promoting itself as a significant security and economic contributor. Yet Russia’s emergence as an Asia-Pacific power is far from assured. The obstacles are formidable and the limitations of its influence are profound. And it remains unclear whether the Kremlin is ready to treat the region as more than just another theatre in a larger contest for global order and governance.

Key findings:

  • The rise of Asia is the central challenge of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, calling into question long-standing assumptions about Russia’s place in the world.
  • Moscow is now more committed to engagement with the Asia-Pacific than it has ever been. This reflects belated recognition of the region’s critical importance in global affairs.
  • Russia’s ambition to become a major player in the Asia-Pacific faces considerable hurdles. Overcoming them will depend on larger changes in its foreign policy mindset — an uncertain prospect at best.
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